- Some of you may have been clued into the Football Outsiders’ series on top offenses, top defenses and top special teams units over the past 30 years. Of course, they use their advanced DVOA metric that has been hotly debated here over the years. I will reserve any metric banter for the comments section below—in fact, it has been a long time since we had a spirited DVOA fight! (In short, DVOA stands for Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, and is the cause of extreme consternation among casual football fans and numbers-driven wonks. James Dorsett—you have an opinion on this?) It ALMOST doesn’t matter what metrics they use to rank these teams, because they seem to have gotten a very fundamental thing correct: the 1991 Washington Redskins is the best team over the last 30 years. Hard stop. Full stop. Period. They had the offense at #20, the defense at #10 and the special teams unit at #14 (over the 30-year period). In 1991, they were #1 overall on both offense and special teams, and they boasted the #3 defense. In short, they were ballers.
- Instead of going through the numbers, I thought I would pick out a few memories from that season. I feel like a geezer for actually having memories of the last Redskins Super Bowl championship team, given the presence of what has become known as the “Loss Generation.” First thing’s first: Joe Gibbs, Charley Casserly and Jack Kent Cooke ran the show. Sonny, Sam And Frank were in the radio booth. “The Hogs” were still paving the way for workhorse running backs and “The Posse” was in full effect. We played our home games at RFK Stadium. In other words...it was a TOTALLY different world from top to bottom. It is also VERY worth noting that our very own Tom Garrett recorded a 10-part miniseries dedicated to this team. It can be found here.
- I won’t say it again—after this—but there was a time when the buzz ahead of a Redskins season had some real teeth. When Joe Gibbs put a team on the field, he wasn’t f’ing around—something we all witnessed together from 2005-2007. When Joe Gibbs had a decade to put together a program, he put a juggernaut on the field. The 1991 team had almost no weak spots, and all of us knew it. What’s more, everything that was great about the team made some other part of the team even better. The offensive line was the engine of an offense that put the defense in amazing positions each and every game. The special teams unit was a reflection of the dedication to “a third of the game”...a common refrain when coaches would get asked why they cared so much about kickers, punters, returners and cover men. By the time the Redskins hosted the Detroit Lions on Sunday night to start the season, the fanbase was foaming at the mouth. When that game ended—a 45-0 DISMANTLING of Detroit—we were all looking at each other like, “Oh...my...God...this is about to happen!” I mean, Brian Mitchell took one to the house, Darrell Green intercepted two passes and Mark Rypien showed himself to be up for the task of leading Gibbs’ offense. I was a sophomore in high school at the time, and I was keeping the book for my dad’s men’s league softball team in Calvert County (if you grew up in the boonies like me, surely you understand how important those bar leagues are). I remember listening to that game on the radio from the park, and the sound of Frank Herzog shouting, “TOUCHDOWN!! Washington Redskins” so many times.
- This won’t be a game-by-game rundown, but week two of that season was absolutely huge. Even great teams are tested, and week two would prove to be a big test, as the Redskins visited Jimmy Johnson’s Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football. The two teams played a tight game to the end, with the Redskins edging out Dirty D 33-31, on the strength of our special teams unit. Chip Lohmiller knocked in field goals from 53, 52, 45 and 46 yards. Pretty useful, eh? This was the year that Jimmy Johnson’s team kind of made their move, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. Their signature win was a victory over the Redskins later in the season, a 24-21 squeaker that kept the Cowboys alive for the postseason. I only bring that up because Jimmy Johnson would later say that the Dallas coaching staff came into that game prepared to empty their entire playbook against us. They went for it on fourth down, they attempted random onside kicks and they blitzed like mad men. He called our team a “gorilla” and suggested that you don’t pussyfoot when trying to attack a gorilla—essentially saying that they were okay with losing as long as they hit us with everyone they had. Every NFC East game was drama-filled in those days it seemed, and as much as I hate the Dallas Cowboys, I will always remember and appreciate the respect they paid Joe Gibbs in their preparation to face his teams. That loss was the first one of the season, coming in Week 13, and it hurt! It hurt because the undefeated season was lost, and it hurt that it came against Dallas, but it was inside the division, and it would be a lie to suggest there wasn’t a minute bit of pride there. Here is what I mostly remember: Joe Gibbs and the rest of the team didn’t seem fazed by the fact we no longer had a chance to go undefeated. Joe Gibbs is the kind of coach that probably thought it was better to lose a game like that ahead of the playoffs. Either way, during that era, the Redskins were judged by their success in the postseason. (SPOILER ALERT: They went undefeated that postseason!) In the final week of the season, Gibbs rested his starters by or before halftime, essentially ceding a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. Nobody cared too much.
- The Redskins opened that playoff season at home against the Atlanta Falcons. For those unfamiliar with this game, it was the famous Seat Cushion game. My dad scored a ticket to the game and sat in the rain at RFK to watch the Redskins bounce the Falcons out of the playoffs. In the fourth quarter, Gerald Riggs plowed his way into the end zone to give the Redskins a 17-7 lead, and the RFK faithful sensed the victory. They had all been given gold seat cushions on their way into the stadium, and at that moment, they began to rain down onto the field. It was unbelievable to see on TV, and my father said it was even more amazing to see in person (he threw his seat cushion but caught a couple that were thrown from the upper deck and brought them home to us). The Skins had thrashed the Falcons earlier that season 56-17, but that didn’t stop the Falcons from trash-talking (Deion Sanders was on that team). The NFC Championship put us all right back where we started: a home tilt against the NFC’s clear second-best team in the Detroit Lions. Barry Sanders was having himself a season, and the Lions were coming to Washington after obliterating the Dallas Cowboys the week before. I am reasonably certain that Sanders had more side-to-side yardage in that game than he did north-to-south (Sanders had 44 yards rushing). The Redskins won 41-10, and no matter where you were that day, you were partying. Democrats and Republicans hugged. Dogs and cats called a truce. I can’t imagine a Monday over the years where less got done at work in the nation’s capital. WE WERE GOING TO THE SUPER BOWL!!!
- The Buffalo Bills ran through the AFC that year like Hot Chicken through Kevin Ricca. Before the season even ended, the discussion about which team was better raged, as everyone hoped for this matchup in the Super Bowl. The 37-24 final score shows the game to be closer than it actually was, as the Redskins put this game away by the end of the third quarter/beginning of the fourth. Jim Kelly was picked off four times, and Joe Gibbs had won his third Super Bowl with a third quarterback. It should be noted that the halftime show for this game was unprecedentedly terrible—a tribute to the Winter Olympics featuring a fake ice rink with figure skaters. You read that right. Proving that the NFL gets it every once in a while, they trotted out Michael Jackson the very next year. I could spend another 1,500 words talking about this season, but let’s kick it down below to see what kind of thoughts anyone else has on that ride. And please, check out Tom Garrett’s podcast series dedicated to it.
The 1991 Washington Redskins look better and better with the passage of time.
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